Entrepreneur Lord Diljit Rana calls for change to promote Northern Ireland business
Veteran entrepreneur Lord Diljit Rana has said planners and bankers need to take a different attitude to making business work in Northern Ireland.
Lord Rana has been running businesses in Belfast for nearly 50 years and his company Andras House owns and operates five hotels and an apartment complex in the city.
In his latest venture, a restaurant unit belonging to Andras House on Great Victoria Street will re-open as The Malt Room under the direction of chef Raymond McArdle.
The 75-year-old businessman, who was speaking during a visit from his birthplace in Punjab where he funds an educational complex, said his business will make more investment in the city if the pick-up in the economy continues.
"We have many other development proposals, and when the economy is better and banks are comfortable, we will be developing again.
"I think banks have difficulty supporting further developments, which is understandable, but I hope it will be improving in a year or two."
Two weeks ago Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King said Northern Ireland was a difficult place to do business because of the slowness of Planning Service, leaving him more inclined to invest elsewhere.
Lord Rana said: "I agree totally with what Justin King says. Planning is difficult and has always been difficult. I am dealing with them [Planning Service] since the late 1960s but the difference is, a company like Sainsbury's is business-focused but people like me are focused on community, so when there are business difficulties people like me can't say I am going to move elsewhere."
Following Mr King's criticisms earlier this month, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the planning system was now in a better position "to support economic development, providing greater certainty on outcome and timeframes for managing applications".
Lord Rana said he was also a supporter of a lower rate of corporation tax for Northern Ireland. "I am one of the original advocates of reduced corporation tax for Northern Ireland.
"I really hope it happens. It would be good for Northern Ireland."
He said he had long experience of doing business in Northern Ireland. "What I can say is that I have been living here for 47 years so I have seen it all."
He began by opening a cafe on the site of Victoria Square – but his businesses were destroyed by fire caused by bomb attacks in November and December 1971.
Instead, he branched out into fashion, furs and leather with boutiques around Belfast. His hotels followed in the 1990s, and now Andras House operates the Ramada Plaza in Shaw's Bridge, DAYS Hotel, Holiday Inn Express Belfast City Centre, and IBIS hotels in the city centre and close to Queen's.
At home in Belfast he also has funded philanthropic projects, such as Harmony or the Beacon of Hope, a steel sculpture of a female figure holding a hoop overlooking Queen's Bridge.
Lord Rana on Northern Ireland, its people and case for business tax cuts
On Northern Ireland:
"Northern Ireland is my home and I am committed to Northern Ireland.
I have played my role in the community and in the regeneration of Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s. Northern Ireland is a good place."
"People are victims of history but Northern Ireland people are good people. My commitment to Northern Ireland is total."
On the future:
"We have many other development proposals, and when the economy is better and banks are comfortable, we will be developing again."
On funding Harmony:
"Other people would have given up because of the difficulties but I gave the undertaking and we created that new symbol."
"Planning service is very difficult and has always been difficult.
I am dealing with them since the late 1960s."
"A company like Sainsbury's is business-focused but people like me are focused on community I have dealt with the difficulties and stuck to the community and reinvested, reinvested in the community again and again.
"My activities are not purely profit-motivated."
Corporation tax cuts:
"I am one of the original advocates of reduced corporation tax for Northern Ireland... it would be good for Northern Ireland."